Classifying the water table at regional to continental scales



[1] Water tables at regional to continental scales can be classified into two distinct types: recharge-controlled water tables that are largely disconnected from topography and topography-controlled water tables that are closely tied to topography. We use geomatic synthesis of hydrologic, geologic and topographic data sets to quantify and map water-table type over the contiguous United States using a dimensionless criterion introduced by Haitjema and Mitchell-Bruker (2005), called the water-table ratio, which differentiates water-table type. Our analysis indicates that specific regions of the United States have broadly contiguous and characteristic water-table types. Water-table ratio relates to water-table depth and the potential for regional groundwater flow. In regions with recharge-controlled water tables, for example the Southwest or Rocky Mountains, USA, water-tables depths are generally greater and more variable and regional groundwater flow is generally more important as a percentage of the watershed budget. Water-table depths are generally shallow and less variable, and regional groundwater flow is limited in areas with topography-controlled water tables such as the Northeast USA. The water-table ratio is a simple but powerful criterion for evaluating regional groundwater systems over broad areas.